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Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders  
 

F.A. Lipscombe Cycles

Author Bryan Clarke

 Frank and his wife Rita opened their bike shop at 185-7 Markhouse Road, Walthamstow, London E 17 in February 1939. Frank’s career as a ‘crack’ time-trialist in the age of ‘black alpaca’ was remarkable, winning numerous races and breaking records firstly for Ingleside CC and then with the Century Road Club for which he is best remembered and had a long standing association. He helped them achieve the team BAR in 1935 aided by club mate Stan Miles who won the individual prize with Frank third behind the Midlander, Charles Holland. All three were on blistering form that year.

Lipscombe 8 trophies Lipscombe 7 medals
Displays of some of the trophies and medals won by Frank Lipscombe during his racing years

Lipscombe 1Thanks to information received from Frank Lipscombe's daughter and wife (Rita) in early 2010 we now know who was responsible for building the fine bicycle frames sold by Frank.  His daughter Pam explained that she worked with her father in the shop for many years and used to watch him framebuilding, sometimes she was allowed to have a go with the oxy-acetelyne welder herself.  She states that Frank built all of his own frames until he was taken ill with a heart attack in 1964/5. Whilst he was ill no frames were built.  Frank's only connection with Les Ephgrave was that he used to get his 531 tubing through him. The business was finally sold to Brian Wilkins in early 1973. Wilkins advertised that year as also having branches at Gidea Park and Harlesden.

Brian Wilkins adds: To confirm details in the article on LIPSCOME CYCLES which I bought from Frank and Rita Lipscome in 1970, and operated alongside the 'BRIAN WILKINS' shops in Harlesden and Gidea Park Romford . The shop was compulsorily purchased by the local council in 1979 and the business transfered to Epping in 1980 as 'CYCLESPORT EPPING'. I continued building a few frames until closing the business in 1989 and moving to France where I still live and ride my original bikes four times a week! I still have a box of BRIAN WILKINS transfers available if anyone has need .  Brian Wilkins email: vsdemerck(at)yahoo.co.uk


Lipscombe 2From the small number of bikes that have come to light in recent years, Frank seems to have built as the fashion dictated whether it was to be fancy lugs, customised Nervex lugs, Nervex Pro, or Prugnat lugs in the Italian style. Perhaps the finest example belongs to VCC marque enthusiast, Alex von Tutschek. Both his model that has fancy lugs and one owned by the writer are reminiscent of Ephgrave because of the lug designs and the way in which they are so beautifully filed. The latter, pictured here is similar in style to the Ephgrave No.2 that also creates crescent shapes from Nervex Legere pattern head lugs but achieved by removing different areas of the lug. Alex’s has more than passing resemblance to an Ephgrave No.1 and shares a similar but not identical lug pattern. Both examples show a close association and admiration for the frame building skills of Les Ephgrave. It is known that Frank was a visitor to Les’s lock-up garage in Upper Clapton Road in 1947/8 before his business really took off and he subsequently became an agent.

The three and four figure frames numbers are found under the bottom bracket and on the fork column. It has been suggested by John Clark that the first two digits probably represent the year of build. He purchased his bespoke Italian style model in the mid 1960s. Bicycle frames by Frank Lipscombe are therefore worthy additions to the frame-builders hall of fame.

In the 1960's Frank Lipscombe designed and built the almost unique 'Compacta' folding lightweight and his wife remembers about twelve being built to order for customers. The link connects to details and images of one of John Spooner's Compactas.

I am grateful to John Clark for supplying me with additional material for this short article.

Lipscombe 3
     Lipscombe seatstay bridge
  Compare with bridge on right
Ephgrave Lipscombe
   Ephgrave seatstay bridge
        
Lipscombe 4
      Lipscombe down tube transfer

Roger Bugg writes:
I can add that my machine is 5926 and was almost new when I bought it in late 1960. This seems to lend weight to the theory that the first two digits represent the year.

Link for details of another fine 1960 Frank Lipscombe machine.

Richard Masson relates:
I have just found your excellent website and read the piece about the Frank Lipscombe frame.  First let me put to rest any suggestion that anyone other than Frank build his frames. Up until I went off to sea in the Merchant Navy in 1959 I knew Frank pretty well and hung around the shop in Markhouse Road whenever possible. I never heard Frank say a good word for any other framebuilder ever. As far as he was concerned there was only one person who could build a frame 'properly' and his name was Frank Lipscombe.  End of story.

I rode a 1950 Claud Butler Courier Anglais, lugless and double welded Accles and Pollock tube which Frank always said would fall apart one day and kill me!   My Dad bought it for me second hand in 1953 for £15 which was a lot of money back then.

I was a racing mad lad and Frank took me to the Century Road Club in Waltham Cross, about 1954 and I stayed a member throughout my cycling career.  I rode time trials mainly but some massed start, mainly evening 'sign up and race' events at Crystal Palace.  We used to train on a set of rollers on the pavement outside Frank's shop on Saturday afternoons to the amusement of passing shoppers. We thought we were so cool!

I was interested to read the piece about Ray Booty.  The Boot was hero to most of us, this quiet clarinet playing RAF National Serviceman seemed superhuman. I understand he had a naturally very slow pulse rate which helped his incredible stamina. Gordon Pirie the athlete was the same if you remember him.  But what is that about his gears? I remember him riding with a rear derailleur operated by a rod up the back forks.  He used to reach back to the base of his greatly extended seat tube and twist the lever to change gear.  We all called it a finger-chopper because you risked getting  your hand caught in the rear spokes.  (Ed: I wonder if Richard is confusing Ray Booty with Dave Keeler who used the Paris/Roubaix gears for a few years)

Pam Leggate (is Frank Lipscombe's daughter) and she has given us some of the details above.  She also tells us:

Here  are two photos of the shop (shown below), taken a few years apart, though I am unfortunately not sure of the exact dates. However, the shop front was altered around the late 1950s. The forecourt in the old shop photo shows part of a collection of old cycles which were on loan from Mick Elsden (Century CC I believe) who at that time had a large collection in his garage in Tottenham. Mick and his wife Floss used to provide the food at races in those days, and I am still in touch with their son John.

I note from the website that a Richard Masson (above)  mentions riding the rollers on the forecourt - this was a very popular 'sport' and I remember it drew quite large crowds. I also remember that two of our regular customers, Pete Ashman and Mick Groves used to have competitions on the rollers as to who could go the faster, and there was one memorable occasion when Pete flew off the rollers into the crowd. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but thereafter Pete was known as "Crash Ash". I don't know if Richard Masson would remember those names?

I didn't formally work in the shop, as I was still at school, but I supplied endless cups of tea to my parents and customers alike on Saturdays and, as I said, assisted in the workshop (though I suspect I was probably more of a hindrance than a real help!). I didn't take over the business at all, I'm afraid that I left on my marriage in 1965 and, if truth be told, was quite happy to be away from bikes! My mother worked full time in the shop, and did all the window dressing too, whilst my dad was the 'technician', doing repairs and building frames and wheels, etc.

A lot of the stock was supplied by Hobbs Bros (Joe and Albert) who ran a warehouse business not far away, though I can't remember exactly where. They were also good friends, with whom we often went on holiday. I often went with my dad when he was delivering/collecting frames which had to go to somewhere in the Pentonville Road to be enamelled - he didn't do that himself. I loved the smell of the paint shop.

One or two bikes were exported to a customer in, I think, Kenya. I remember dad complaining about the forms that had to be filled in, even in those days, for shipping to Mombasa. I don't know if you are aware that my dad invented the "PAL attachment", a device that enabled a small child (me!) to ride on the back of a tandem with a second chain ring, higher up, to enable short legs to reach the pedals.

Lipscombe 5 The old shop
The forecourt in the old shop photo shows part of a collection of old cycles which were on loan from Mick Elsden (Century CC I believe)
 I guess that the photograph on display in the left-hand window is of Frank when racing


Lipscombe 6 The new shop
The new larger shop front was installed in the late-1950's